Doctor Who: The Dominators Review



The TARDIS lands on the planet Dulkis. The Doctor, Jamie and newly-arrived Zoe arrive to find the peaceful inhabitants enslaved by Dominators Rago (Ronald Allen) and Toba (Kenneth Ives) and their robotic servants the Quarks.

The Dominators is a middling serial that kicked off Patrick Troughton’s final season, the show’s sixth. While it isn’t terrible (step forward The Underwater Menace) it isn’t more than middling either. Like The Krotons from later in the same season, it’s often resented for having the temerity to exist complete in the archives (like only five, count them five, other Troughton serials) when far more highly-rated and well-remembered stories are only represented by single episodes if any at all. Co-writer Mervyn Haisman, in the featurette on this DVD, says as much: why this one is complete when he and his collaborator Henry Lincoln’s far superior stories The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear are mostly lost (archive holdings: two out of a total of twelve episodes survive, one from each story) is one to make a fan weep. Admittedly Haisman has an axe to grind, but you can’t deny him that point and someone like me, not old enough to have seen those now-junked episodes originally (I started with Jon Pertwee in 1971 at the age of six), is not going to disagree with him.

Broadcast in August and September 1968, The Dominators stands apart from the climate of the time. When popular culture was promoting peace and love, Haisman and Lincoln – both in their mid-thirties at the time – wrote a story where a pacifist culture is simply defenceless in the face of an aggressor. There's not a lot of overt political comment in Who other than a general being on the side of freedom against an oppressor, so this does make this story a little more interesting than it might have been. Also, Terry Nation had withdrawn the rights to the Daleks, in an unsuccessful attempt to launch them in their own TV series away from the Doctor, so the search was on for a replacement. Haisman and Lincoln came up with the Quarks.

The Dominators had a troubled genesis, and what is on screen is in many ways the best that could be done in the time. Haisman and Lincoln were commissioned to write a six-part serial, but time was short and what was delivered was deemed unsatisfactory by script editor Derrick Sherwin. So the story was taken out of Haisman and Lincoln’s hands and rewritten by Sherwin with some input from his new assistant Terrance Dicks. In the process, the story was shortened by one episode, the one now spare (written by an uncredited Sherwin) being added to the next story, The Mind Robber. This resulted in the unique occurrence of two five-parters one after another, in a season full of unusually-lengthed stories. (There would be only one other five-parter in the show’s entire history, namely The Daemons.) Meanwhile, due to Sherwin's rewrites and due to a dispute over the merchandising of the Quarks, Haisman and Lincoln took their names off the story, so The Dominators went out credited to the pseudonymous Norman Ashby.

There are some nice ideas. The Quarks – embodied by schooboys, with squeaky voices provided by Sheila Grant – would never be the replacement for the Daleks that the BBC hoped, but they are decent enough if never remotely menacing. Effective heavy-set makeup on particularly tall actors makes the two Dominators suitably imposing, despite a rather cheap-looking shell costume. On the other hand, naming characters after Arabic numbers (Wahed, Etnin and Tolata are “one”, “two” and “three” in that language) or from a Latin primer (Bovem, Senex, Tensa and so on) is simply rote. Barry Newbery, returning to the show after two years and doing a rare futuristic story, does his customary good job, but some of the costumes are uninspired, especially the dress-like robes that the Dulcians wear.

By now, the interaction between the Doctor and Jamie was well-established, and it helps the serial across its dull patches. Zoe was the new girl, introduced at the end of the previous season in The Wheel in Space and had just been brought up to speed on life in the TARDIS by means of a inter-season repeat of The Evil of the Daleks. Wendy Padbury gives her character a spark that shows she’s made of different stuff than her predecessor Victoria. Pity that the clasp holding up her costume has a few problems… The supporting cast – which features Play School icon Brian Cant meeting his second and final Who demise – aren’t able to do anything spectacular. Director Morris Barry achieves some decent location work, in a couple of the many quarries and sandpits that stood in for alien planets in the show’s history.

Ultimately, The Dominators is simply uninspired. It kicked off an uneven final season for Troughton. The Krotons is just as indifferent, and The Space Pirates (of which only one episode out of six survives) is most likely worse. Fortunately much better (The Mind Robber, The Seeds of Death, The Invasion, The War Games) would follow too.



The DVD


The Dominators is released by 2 Entertain on a single dual-layered DVD encoded for Region 2 only.

By the time of this serial, Who had upgraded from 405-line video to 625-line, in preparation for the switch to colour which would come with the next season. However, the original tapes have long since been wiped, and what survives are 16mm film telerecordings, plus the 35mm transmission print of Episode 3. As ever, these have been carefully restored with some censor cuts to death scenes, which had been in the VHS release, reinstated. As you would expect from 60s television, the aspect ratio is 4:3. Normally, I'd refer you to the Restoration's Team website for further details if interested, but since they are no longer updating their site, I can't.

The soundtrack is the original mono, cleaned up and sounding good. English subtitles for the hard of hearing are available for the episodes and the extras, but not the commentary.

Production subtitles are provided by Martin Wiggins, and they are as informative as ever, giving you as much as you probably need to know about the serial's production, and pointing out production and continuity errors. I'll leave it to the purists to discuss whether the third episode should have an “Episode 3” caption or not. (It was missed off the 35mm transmission master, but according to Howe and Walker's Television Companion a caption was superimposed live during the broadcast and can be seen on the 16mm telerecording.)

The commentary features moderator Toby Hadoke, Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury , actors Giles Block and Arthur Cox and make-up designer Sylvia James. Though not all at once: Padbury doesn't appear until Episode 2, while Hines and Cox sit out Episode 3, after which James and Block say goodbye. As before on Troughton commentaries, Hines tends to dominate, but the presence of a moderator helps forty-plus-year-old memories and the others do get to have their say.

“Recharge and Equalise” (22:58) is the making-of documentary, which goes into the troubled background of the serial in some detail, with Haisman still feeling some resentment (Henry Lincoln is absent) and Sherwin not taking any prisoners, forty years after the events. Also interviewed are Frazer Hines, Sylvia James and designer Barry Newbery, actors Felicity Gibson, Giles Block and Arthur Cox, and Brian Hodgson of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The featurette is narrated by Stephen Grief.

Next up is the first in a series called “Tomorrow's Times” (13:15), looking at the reaction to Who in the press. This one deals with the Second Doctor and is presented by Caroline John in Points of View mode, with extracts from newspaper TV reviews read by several voices. Nicholas Courtney.speaks an introduction.

The extras continue with a self-navigating stills gallery (5:47), Radio Times listings in PDF format, and a Coming Soon trailer for the two-disc set of Revenge of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis. This trailer ups the BBFC certificate of the overall package from a U to a PG.

Click left from “Recharge and Equalise” on the Special Features menu and click on the green logo that appears and you will access the Easter Egg – another visit to the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre (2:37). It's a mildly amusing one-watch item, with jokes based on the ultra-geeky subject of Doctor Who serial codes.

Film
6 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
4 out of 10
Overall

6

out of 10

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